Venice Is a ReasonOn "Unscripted: Venetian Ecosystems", an exhibition of work by six young Venetian artists at Ragioni Tecniche
Venice is earth and water in a concupiscence of evolution.
Venice is a city of yearning for the beautiful amidst decrepitude and inspiration. This yearning is the flow providing energy in the dialogue of desire, a dialogue uttering the poetry of the scene and the prose of the logos.
A series of islands, a dialogue between the ever-rising tides and the twisting, turning, islets upon which are built the structures that make up the world’s most phenomenological and magical city, Venice, for those who live it, and for those who speak Italian, is a living, fluid dream in the sensual colors of desire’s shadows. It is also the world’s foremost Cosmopolitan polis dedicated to the discourse and creation of aesthetics. More than New York, Paris, London or any other economic center, Venice to this day seduces dreamers and makers who want to countenance the inflection point of production and attraction.
Venice is a city of dreams where the world’s dreamers are called by the tranquil beauty and decaying elegance of one of the world’s greatest empires.
In fact the Venetians have nicknamed their city “La Serenissima” as if she were a goddess from a fusion-like religious practice combining Greeks, Muslims, Turks, Italians, Chinese and the lonely, beauty-worshipping souls who now come to Venice as pilgrims in search of a tranquility impossible to write and even less possible to speak.
Venice is a city for those who come to pay homage to a history of ideas where colors from the Earth like Venetian red, yellow ochre, Vicenza white become a complementary force to the aquas, greens and greys of the Adriatic laguna.
Earth and Water…
Venice is a passion.
Venice is a REASON.
For the lover of the beautiful, passion propels us to other dreams, to other believers in the glory and grace of aesthetic joy. We are seduced by Venice and each other. This is the living energy, the gnosis of desire’s articulation.
Reason goes without saying when one lives within the motivation of one’s intuitive passion.
The dictionaries tell us the word “reason” comes from the Latin ratio, a motivation, a foundation, a ground and an understanding.
It is a word rarely associated with art and usually oriented towards logical inclinations of science and perhaps a branch of philosophy. But for an understanding of passion, the passion of Venice in particular, it is paramount to embrace reason as a foundation, a ground.
Reason is land, passion is water.
Poster Announcing the Exhibiition “Unscripted: Venetian Ecosystems”, the first in the Ragioni Veneziane series
RAGIONI | TECHNICHE + Ragioni Veneziane
The name Ragioni Tecniche comes from a sign posted on the grounds of the 2017 Biennale in Venice indicating the closure of a pavilion for “ragioni tecniche” or “technical reasons.” When reasons are technical they are potentially aesthetic as well. In fact, we might insist upon the aesthetic interpretation of reasons as the foundation, the ground of our passion.
Aeshetic passion is the ground upon which our love for La Serenissima is cultivated.
An embrace of the roots of the term “technical” takes us to a meditation on techne, the Greek word upon which our English “technical” is based.
That is, techne as a way of making, producing or bringing forth. It follows that Techne becomes a mode of making that takes many forms, including works of art. Techne is what follows from the propulsion of logos and the articulation of gnosis.
Technical reasons thus become aesthetic, artistic ones.
Ragioni Tecniche becomes a space and an idea that accepts the possibilities of multiple meanings and motivations, where art is an articulation of thinking, of being, in short, of philosophy.
In this space between the rational and the dream-like I created a gallery devoted to art in its myriad productions by artists both living and long-since deceased, was built.
In conceiving of a group show oriented around Venice, its history and its problematics, I had hoped to find a unifying idea that could be replicated annually. As the gallery shows artists from many nations and cities I wanted to devote one exhibition per year to the idea of Venice as a reason and a home, a place with its own artists and with its own aesthetics, both historical and contemporary, of the moment and beyond.
In Ragioni Veneziane (“Venetian reasons”) we have the reason for Venetian artists. The reasons for Venice are motivations and explorations of its artists, young and old, often overlooked or ignored by the dominant paradigms of today’s understanding of the phenomenon “contemporary.” In fact Venice is a place that resists the contemporary, or more accurately, engages in a daily struggle/war/seduction with the art and the people of our current age while always reminding us with its architecture, its waters, its memories, that we are not people of one moment.
In Venice, we become people who are constantly moving through history, through time. It is part of our consciousness and it is one of the principal reasons why Venice remains one of the focal points for lovers of art, art history, and beauty in general.
Ragioni Veneziane is the pluralist exploration of the reasons for making works of sound, photography, drawing, painting, performance, and sculpture within the paradoxical geography of Venice and the Veneto.
The first iteration of this annual show of motivational Venetian aesthetic takes the name “Unscripted: Venetian Ecosystems” given by its curatorial group of four young women (Irene De Toni, Anna Lazzari, Giulia Gelmi and Marta Blanchietti) who call themselves 51Lire.
In their selection of seven artists, Lara Barzon working with Luca Manfredi, Arianna Favaretto Cortese, Matteo Losurdo, Roberto Moro, Francesco Piva and Chiara Tubia, we see Venice from the point of view of young eyes, artists fluent in social media and new technologies who engage with La Serenissima’s landscapes, people and architecture with their unique voices.
Still from Looking from Venice, Lara Barzon and Luca Manfredi, digital video, 2022
Lara Barzon and Luca Manfredi
Lara Barzon and Luca Manfredi are an artist couple re-thinking the notion of generational progression in “Looking for Venice”. This work, an exploration of the young couple’s passage into parenthood, uses Venice’s landscapes and waterscapes as markers for an imaginary paper architecture. The color digital video features their months-old baby playing against a royal blue ground whose source is indeterminate. The little girl is toying with paper constructions of Venetian palazzos, the Rialto Bridge, and other structures while the video splices scenes of the baby’s grandmother bathing and balancing the aforementioned paper sculptures on various parts of her body.
This is a playful and meditative video rich with symbolism and lovingly produced by artists emotionally engaged with the subject matter and the video’s performers. In the work Venice becomes a plaything, a series of toys for amusement amidst the unsteady waters, its shakes and shimmers of both bath and body.
Venice is threatened with one false move. Inter-generational play becomes a possible hazard and a possible future for the re-population of both Venice and Italy, two geographies in desperate need of children.
The video is full of play and pleasure and the colorations from blue to Venetian red/orange become slightly blurred, diffused and harmonious. The work is projected by a small hand-held projector that gallery visitors are invited to hold and point to any surface they see fit to view for the work. In this way the video becomes a bit more cinematic and customized, particularly when projected on the ceiling, corners, and other white surfaces of the space. As such the viewing experience becomes also a projecting activity, far more engaging and symbolically enduring.
CINNAMON#1, Arianna Favaretto Cortese, performance, 2022
Arianna Favaretto Cortese during her performance of CINNAMON #1
Arianna Favaretto Cortese
Arianna Favaretto Cortese’s performance, CINNAMON#1, took place in Campo San Beneto, outside the gallery’s windows on the night of the opening of the exhibition and proved to be a provocative and solemn experience. Ignited by the presence of the many spectators and occasional passersby encircling the small historic square that also faces the Palazzo Fortuny and used primarily as a staging ground for tourists who want to photograph the historic building the Campo became a scene evocative of the Middle Ages in its use of candle light and the scent of cinnamon, a spice often inserted in icons to create an olfactory experience for religious worshippers in Venice.
The artist began with a quiet, slow-paced walk along the Calle del Teatro o della Chiesa (Theater or Church Alley) holding an illuminated candle and bravely keeping her balance and the flame alit. The flame’s light being practically the only source of illumination in this otherwise very dark and sparsely populated corner of Venice.
She then arrived to the center of the elevated Campo (square) and walked amidst the group uttering? Singing? A mysterious series of intonations before settling on top of the Well head in the center, itself a stone symbol of long-forgotten practice of extracting fresh water. Indeed the well head, one of the hundreds of Venice, was a beautiful stone phallic presence amidst this feminine haunted exploration or séance of ghosts and beings beyond the material. This was a spectacle of flame, human breath and stone.
It is fitting that the performance began along this unique little alley in Venice, a byway that has two names literally written on the buildings of its sides. The path leading to a church (San Beneto) and an old theater, becomes the perfect name and place for Cortese’s performance, a work of theater and perhaps something quasi sacred, as one might imagine a ritual excision of long-standing internal feminine pain.
Silence Walking (Installation View) Matteo Losurdo, Digital Photographs, 2022
Detail Installation View of Matteo Losurdo’s Silence Walking series, 2022, Photo by Matteo Losurdo
Matteo Losurdo’s “Silence Walking” series of digital color photographs of Venice are particular in their sparseness, the lack of the human presence and the nighttime illumination from unseen light sources. The works appear to have been photographed during the pandemic lockdown of 2020 but in reality were shot at night and in quick succession in those magical moments when Venice is free of human clutter.
The light in all of the works is strangely dispersed, a bit cold and a bit melodramatic, as if the pictures are backdrops scouted by a location director for a motion picture, looking for the right setting for a delicious and quick murder scene.
The images are elegantly framed in black aluminum and not hidden by glass. Their bare presence, embracing the viewer and their superbly strategic placement in dialogue with each other, make them memorable and transcend the ordinary by becoming extra-ordinary or meta-ordinary. Of course, in Venice, the term “ordinary” is relative when discussing exquisite structures that were built 500 years ago and maintain a haunting and beatific presence in a city of dreams disrupted by mass, crass, global thoughtless tourism.
Postcards from Venice (Installation View), Roberto Moro, 2022
Detail from Roberto Moro’s Postcards from Venice
Indeed mass tourism is the plague that threatens all life, all culture, all moments of beauty in Venice. It is precisely this plague that Roberto Moro makes his subject in his witty, eerie and entertaining photographic series called “Postcards from Venice” mounted on an entire wall and exhibiting a play of two and three-dimenstionality. Consisting of one large panel with numerous photos printed in a series and several mounted and framed protruding from the panel the works, pictures of visitors photographing San Marco Basilica in Piazza San Marco, the visual, geographic and political center of La Serenissima, Moro’s photographs create a continuum of tragedy and comedy.
The compositions are cute and humorous. Just take a look at the funny body and facial expressions of the subjects. One includes a woman balancing a delicate white umbrella on her shoulder as she aims her smartphone. Another image includes a visitor grappling a plastic bag, the symbolic banner of garbage consumption, as she aims for a shot that will likely soon be forgotten within the thousands of other photos trapped beyond memory and secluded within data of an electronic device requiring electrical power.
Moro’s work is lighthearted but with a poignant examination of the phenomenon we call tourism in the 21st century. Like all good comedy, he speaks truth while finding humor in the everyday. For this his photographs should be required viewing for every visitor in Venice, as part of a new VISA program required by the Italian government.
V.I.S.IT., sound sculpture with Bose speaker, Francesco Piva
Francesco Piva speaking about his sound sculpture, V.I.S.IT.
Sound sculpture is a genre, not a medium. As a genre, a work with whose materiality is invisible but heard, it requires patience and silence to be properly perceived, let alone appreciated. In the case of Francesco Piva’s “V.I.S.IT.”, a sound piece in the corner of the gallery, the sounds become part of the fabric of the viewing experience. The shuffling, ruffling rumbles of trucks and other vehicles in the distance, sounds recorded outside Venice in Marghera, an industrial center, become part of the fabric of the “other Venice” that area outside the historical center that provides energy, food, and labor for the historic city.
V.I.S.IT. is at once a work of refined industrialization and capture. It is a sonic reminder that La Serenissima does not exist in a vacuum and is part of a general, wider contemporary world with the need for fuel, goods, electricity and other elements of daily life we take for granted and that often get overlooked when we are lost in the romanticism of the Venetian aesthetic experience. Piva’s is a work of subtle and harmonious registration, where the sounds settle between noise and music in their perfectly edited output.
This is also a strangely reassuring environmental piece that makes one contemplate the importance of movement and transit in the welfare of a cosmopolitan locale. The Transportation of goods is what made Venice absurdly powerful and wealthy as a Republic and an empire. The ability to maximize command of the Adriatic and Ionian seas meant the command of its islands and nations, goods and trade. Today the sounds emanating from Piva’s work that originated in Marghera are but the latest iteration of this global trade.
E/Mergo (self-portrait) (Installation View), Chiara Tubia, Photos Video, fabric, 2022, Photo by Matteo Losurdo
Partial Installation View of Chiara Tubia’s E/Mergo (self-portrait), 2022
Chiara Tubia’s installation “E/Mergo (self-portrait)” makes for an arresting experience and is the largest work in the gallery. A series of color photographs pinned to one wall accompanied by video monitor placed in vertical format propped against the wall and on the floor as it plays, in slow motion, what appears to be a series of dripping fabrics makes for a pleasant complement to Francesco Piva’s urban-oriented sound sculpture on the opposite corner.
Tubia’s installation also includes a hanging piece of Indian cotton, stained in various light colors of soft greens and grays and one larger photograph, almost abstract, depicting the same piece of fabric as it is hovering, partially submerged, over the Venetian lagoon. These cotton fabrics are ritually baptized in the waters of the lagoon where Tubia takes her boat trips to explore the Venetian seascape. Since Veneto, the region in and around Venice, is famous for its luxury goods and fashion manufacturers it would be straightforward to interpret Ms. Tubia’s work as an exploration of the raw materials and their eco-unfriendly processes that go into the fashion industry. But I believe there is more at work in her sculpture and performative gestures than commentary on the history of luxury in the region and the pollution of the lagoon waters marking the inundated fabric.
Ms. Tubia’s works on view are artifacts, parts of her interactions and dialogues with the Venetian ecosystems more water-centric environment. In fact, for an exhibition entitled “Venetian Ecosystems” this is the most focused articulation of the organic world in and around Venice.
There is a graceful, peaceful elegance to this work, particularly in the video sequences that repeat into a kind of meditative backdrop that brings to mind a lusty video advertising sunglasses on the side of an Italian gothic cathedral or an expertly executed perfume ad clip. But this is not to insult the artist or diminish her work, only to evoke her fascinating ability to catalyze the strange vastness and tainted waters of Venice into evocative and poetic testaments. Tubia’s work seduces in its simplicity and in its provocations that insist on understanding Venice as more than just a city of beauty and tourism.
She demonstrates the fragility and beauty of Venice as part of an organic Italy under threat with pollution, too many boats, too much of everything that color the waters and threaten the living beings in and around them. In doing so she demonstrates the perils of globalist tourism and globalist industrialization within the exceptionally fragile social and organic ecosystems of Venice and its environs. For this we should thank her.
The Future of La Serenissima
One must pay proper compliments to the young curators of this exhibition for the range of the work they chose to show in this intimate gallery setting in the heart of Venice. “Unscripted: Venetian Ecosystems” is a curious title and evocative string of words, chosen, I believe, for their articulation of the expanded notion of what constitutes an ecosystem.
It is true that Venice is perhaps the world’s most beautiful, fragile and unique urban ecosystem. It is also true that the Venetian lagoon is an endangered aquatic ecosystem and that the two together are being altered on a daily basis by rising sea levels which are the effects of humanity’s continued warming of the planet Earth. Between the dangers of rising sea levels, mass tourism, and exploitative foreign investments, Venice is perhaps more fragile than ever. The inspirations of this exhibition come to me in this insight demonstrated by the diverse works of the artists and in their message of delicate optimism that underlies their work, be it with some dark humor and brutal honesty thrown into the emotional mixed media.
This exhibition of six young artist brings to mind the many sociological, ecological, phenomenological and aesthetic ways Venice lives and breathes, the ways it is being threatened and the way it perseveres. Perhaps more than any other city, Venice is a goddess of reason and unreason, one that seduces with her other-worldly, timeless beauty and one that, in her subjectivity, knows how to fight back against the sway of thoughtless and destructive globalist interventions. The works in Unscripted speak to these phenomena in deceptively succinct ways, in a manner of direct speech best uttered by young, less cynical artists from the Venetian lagoon and within the Italian aesthetic ideology prioritizing a sublime notion of quality.
In such a small gallery setting this is a feat worthy of La Serenissima’s history as a cosmopolitan center where ideas and cultures interact with beauty as their ground. For the most part the work present, in its unique ways, was successful in resisting the cynical pull of contemporary irony usually essential in works of contemporary art today. This is perhaps the highest achievement of the exhibition.
As the first in a planned annual series of group exhibitions of work by Venetian artists called “Ragioni Veneziane” we see the reasons for art’s place in a thoughtful and aesthetic way of life, thanks to the work of local voices, local eyes. Venice is a reason indeed and the artists in “Unscripted: Venetian Ecosystems” thoughtfully inspire reflection on the gnosis and the logos behind La Serenissima in the 21st century.
In the streets and alleys, campos and other outdoor surfaces of Venice one finds stones joined together by a soft, malleable form of cement that can be dug through to remove any single paving stone in a time of maintenance for public works. The simple and manual removal of these stones is part of the genius of the modern mind that enables quick access to the maintenance of Venice. By removing and re-placing the stones when necessary no machines are necessary and workers can conduct their trades without damaging or permanently scarring the ancient byways of a city that dates back to 421 A.D. This simple and decisive ingenuity may be an inspiration for how the delicate RIVUS ALTUS (the name given to the settlement by the ancient Romans) can survive and even progress in the face of the current ecological, economic, and cultural dangers facing not only Italy but all places of historical and natural and beautiful fragility.